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Elgin O’Hare Western Access Project: Why reaching the airport is proving a challenge

The Elgin O'Hare Western Access Project is under way and WGN's Sarah Jindra talked to the chairman of the Illinois Tollway Board, Bob Schillerstrom, about its progress.

"All the interchanges to the west will be open by the end of this year," Schillerstrom said.

In 2015, work finished on I-390 between Lake Street and I-290, with tolling starting in July. Now, crews are finishing the road to Route 83.

Tolling on this stretch is scheduled to start in October when the roadway and interchanges are complete. In all, there will be six electronic tolling gantries along I-390 and it will cost $1.90 to drive the full 10 mile stretch.

"If you're just going to get on and use it for a short time, we have our gantries a little closer together so the person who uses it short only pays a smaller amount," Schillerstrom said. "We think it's the fairest way to do it."

The next step of the Elgin O'Hare Western Access project is to continue building I-390 East into O'Hare.

"We're close," Schillerstrom said. "You look out there, you can see the airport."

The plan is to bring I-390 to O'Hare by 2019 and then build a road around the West side of the airport called 490 by 2025.

The only problem is the tollway hasn't yet acquired all the land needed for the project.

To get to the airport, it needs to build over property owned by two railroads, and one of those, Canadian Pacific, hasn't agreed to sell the necessary land.

Canadian Pacific says the tollway's current plan would "cause significant disruption to operations" on the railroad, and would "carve out a vital piece of the national rail network" creating more rail congestion.

The railroad company wants the tollway to come up with an alternative way to get to O'Hare. The tollway says it's in talks with Canadian Pacific to come to an agreement.

"We are talking with them. We look forward to continuing to talk with them," Schillerstrom said. "I am very confident we are going to come up with a resolution that will be good for the CP and allow them to run their railroad to serve the people of this region and also will allow us to build this road to get into the airport."

The two sides have agreed to federal mediation if an agreement can't be reached by Aug. 14 to move the project forward.

In the meantime, the tollway is sticking to its timeline and goal of bringing Western access to O'Hare.

"Our goal and Chicago's goal is that when you go into the airport on the West Side, you can park your car, go into a building that's inside security, you can clear security check, get your baggage, and got to the airplane," Schillerstrom said.

The Chicago Department of Aviation says specifics of that Western access plan at the airport are still being worked out. However, it has dedicated a portion of land-side reserve to support roadway access, as well as parking and security screening on the West Side of the airport.